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New Orleans Pelicans could use impending Anthony Davis trade to springboard into brighter future

How the Pelicans could become the Denver Nuggets and avoid being the Minnesota Timberwolves.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it 100 times: teams never get equal value back when trading away a superstar.

But if ever there were an outlier, it could be in the coming months as the Pelicans shop their 25-year old superstar, Anthony Davis.

Davis is perfectly ripe and he’s otherworldly good. He is already an established superstar — not some up-and-comer who has had one or two tremendous seasons to start his career, but is just 25 years-old a mere seven seasons in and staring at his full prime still ahead of him.

So let’s take a look back at two trades in recent history that might shown the ways in which a team can recoup its losses. There’s the good: Carmelo Anthony’s trade from Denver to the New York Knicks; and the bad: Kevin Garnett’s departure from Minnesota to Boston.

Carmelo Anthony, a one-way scoring stud during his Denver years, was exchanged for quite the crew of Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton and Danilo Gallinari, who all helped the Nuggets win games in the following two seasons after Anthony’s departure, also adding Timofey Mozgov and a future pick (and another right to swap picks).

That’s a lot of hooch.

Through their first seven seasons, make no mistake, Anthony Davis was a better player than Carmelo. So, maybe, just maybe, the Pelicans can strike gold and get oodles of immediate production back in return.

Kevin Garnett, meanwhile, was 12 seasons into his career and stayed loyal to Minnesota through numerous failed seasons after their 2004 run to the Western Conference Finals. In exchange for Garnett, the Timberwolves netted right-handed-only Al Jefferson, four other NBA’ers of varying value (Gerald Green is still in the league, so, hey!) and two picks. This deal was a record-setter and helped take an underachieving Minnesota franchise to new lows as they continued to miss the playoffs — as well as trades and draft picks.

Minnesota’s valuation of Jefferson proved wrong, their player development failed to further the careers of Sebastian Telfair and Ryan Gomes (OR, those guys were never any good) and the “coveted” expiring contract of Theo Ratliff resulted in nothing.

Yeah, so, there’s hope for the New Orleans Pelicans if they hit upon a Nuggets-like return, folks!

Some Trade Ideas!

Think of Jayson Tatum’s or Jaylen Brown’s value over the past year-plus. Tatum started last season leading the entire NBA in 3FG% and defended well enough to make him one of the most “unmovable” pieces in the league. His Celtic teammate Jaylen Brown had already proven himself in playoff minutes the season before and most fans and analysts opined that these two, along with a healthy Gordon Hayward, would destroy the competition this year. Instead, Tatum has slipped ever-so-slightly, Brown joined Hayward on the bench, and their overall value has dipped from “unmovable.”

How about Donovan Mitchell, the powerful, high-voltage (and -usage) shot creator out of Utah? After a record-setting rookie year — one in which he heavily influenced a playoff series win against the Thunder — he’s also leveling off and, even at his best, is still an undersized gunner. I’m not convinced this is the centerpiece to the AD trade, but my oh my, an AD and Rudy Gobert twin towers situation is a scary thought.

Plenty of outsiders believe Ben Simmons, the reigning Rookie of the Year, cannot mesh with superstar center Joel Embiid in Philadelphia because of style (a ball-handling non-shooter), rather than his abilities in pretty much every other aspect of basketball. His floor game is as good as anyone in the league. If Philadelphia brass really believe this, New Orleanians should be the happiest people on earth to get this prodigy back in an AD deal, but again, there may not be enough extras to make it more worthy than other teams’ offers.

The player du jour this season is Luka Doncic, a 19-year old NBA rookie with plenty of European and international experience that belies a more solidified talent valuation. In other words, there’s less reason to be afraid he’ll have a “down” or “uneven” season next year — he does have great size, basketball IQ and guts. He might be one of four players who are truly unmovable.

A favorite scenario of mine is with our friends to the north, the Oklahoma City Thunder. If they want to part with Steven Adams, Terrance Ferguson and Hamidou Diallo, I start to listen. If they have other assets of value, that helps too. Ferguson and Diallo are perfect trade assets in that they are super young and talented, while still green. Adams is a beast and immediately impacts team defense, rebounding and morale and takes his burgeoning offensive game to more fertile grounds away from high-usage Paul George and Russell Westbrook. He’s still only 25 and super durable.

The Lakers have a few young guys, but does the collection of all three (or four!) of them interest you? That’s Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart — there may be no future All-Star Games in the lot of them.

Trade Concepts

  • I’d argue the quickening pace of NBA life brings about higher player valuation volatility meaning one thing: Boston’s Tatum seemed untouchable 9 months ago, but is now ripe for an AD trade. Throw in Brown and some other picks, and hey, there’s no reason to completely tank this team into desolation. (This move, of course, cannot happen until the summer when Kyrie Irving either re-signs at a lesser amount the “super-max” or is traded.)
  • By also offering up E’Twaun Moore, Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle, as reported on the Lowe Post, the Pelicans may show signs of leaning towards beginning anew. Moore and Mirotic seem like perfect pieces for a contending team to push for unexpected playoff teams — maybe those overachieving Nets or Kings could use a boost...and you must wonder what type of players and/or picks the Pelicans would get in return.
  • Let’s hope all trade efforts are coherent with what the team wants: to now surround Jrue Holiday with counterparts who can immediately pick up the defensive load, improve size and athleticism, especially on the wing, and gather new young assets to make up for failed experiments Chieck Diallo, Tim Frazier, Ian Clark, Solomon Hill, etc. I’m neither hoping for, nor expecting, a “Process”-level multi-season tankathon.

If the future Davis trade nets a super solid return — and it should, I mean, we’re talking about Anthony Davis — and then say maybe the lottery balls bounce the right way, the New Orleans Pelicans could soon be winning a lot more games and reaching more postseasons than they ever did with one of the best in the business. The world can and sometimes it does work in mysterious ways.

Maybe the Davis era just wasn’t meant to be, but that doesn’t preclude that the next chapter could make for a much more exciting and satisfying read.